Roger Ebert on His New iTunes App and the Legacy of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs may be winding down his storied tenure at Apple, but Roger Ebert has just gotten started. The biggest thumb in show business released his Great Movies App on iTunes in June, and it’s been a hit. As one iTunes reviewer wrote of Ebert and his new app, “Like Steve Jobs, he tends to think of the movie goer’s experience.”

The app, available for $0.99, allows users to browse reviews of the over 340 films included in Ebert’s Great Movies series. The reviews are accessible on Roger Ebert’s website, and have been published in multiple volumes, but the app has an ease of use that exceeds those formats, especially while reading on the go. Films and reviews can be searched by title, cast, or director, as well as by text, something you can’t do with the book versions of his Great Movies series. But the most unique features are that it allows you to make lists of the films you’ve seen and those you haven’t, and directs you to add films to your Netflix queue or buy from Amazon. Not only does it put Ebert’s favorite films easily at your fingertips, “It’s also a bridge that takes users from reading about great films to seamlessly getting them to view these films as quickly as possible.” (Appolicious)

We exchanged emails with Ebert to learn more about his new app, how he chooses his Great Movies, and his thoughts on the legacy of Steve Jobs and Apple on contemporary movie culture.

Keyframe: How did you get the idea to create a Great Movies App? These essays can be found on your site, as well as in multiple volumes of “The Great Movies” books you’ve published. Why was it important to do have them available as an app?

Roger Ebert: Frankly, because people wanted one. There seems to be some magic to an app. It’s with you wherever your phone is. Once I had an iPhone, I began to see the point. By focusing on “Great Movies,” it allows you to check out titles that may not be on your radar.

Keyframe: You’ve been writing the Great Movies column for over 15 years now, at the rate of one to two entries a month. It seems there are hundreds if not thousands of films that could qualify for the list. How do you decide which films to add to the list of Great Movies? Do you ever get requests or lobbied by fans to add a film?

roger ebert great movies app 3Ebert: It’s a seat of the pants thing. Not all the movies are equally “great.” Some are personal whims or eccentricities. Yes, people tell me all the time, over and over and over, what I should include. Two examples: Withnail and I and The Big Lebowski. Not that they don’t deserve to be included!

Keyframe: Are there plans to release a version 2 with new features? What can people look forward to next?

Ebert: Wouldn’t you know, now that I have an iPhone app, people are complaining there’s no Android version. My developer says there are problems developing at app for Android. Considering the hoops that Apple made us jump through, I can only imagine.

The current update adds more interactivity with Netflix. I am a fan of streaming on TV sets and large-screen monitors. I have never watched a movie on an iPhone and I hope I never do. And by the way, I would love to see Fandor hook up with Roku.

Keyframe: Speaking of iPhones, with Steven Jobs retiring, how would you assess his impact on movies and movie watching?

Ebert: He had the vision for the many ways we could interact with visuals, and there is scarcely an aspect of movies online or off that does not bear his imprint. The first iteration of iMovie undoubtedly inspired a generation to make its first movies. His involvement with Pixar was instrumental in elevating animation from an annual family novelty to a formidable format. Even when he was wrong, he was right. Consider Lisa [the first personal computer with a graphic interface, circa 1983.] His imagination outran his ability at that point.


Fandor has several of Ebert’s Great Movies. Click on the following titles to read his reviews, and then watch the films on Fandor (links to the left):

The Battleship Potemkin

Birth of a Nation

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Last Laugh

Man With a Movie Camera

Metropolis (2010 Restoration)

The Thief of Bagdad

Un Chien Andalou

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